photo & text by nacrowe
to me TRANSFORMER (RCA, 1972) is the definitive LOU REED record, if that is even possible given that he was one of the most contrarian and mercurial artist ever, often making radical sonic and artistic departures between records. what TRANSFORMER has is arguably his most consistent set of great songs which includes iconic tracks (and lifelong personal favorites of mine) like "SATELLITE OF LOVE," "PERFECT DAY," "VICIOUS" and (of course) "WALK ON THE WILD SIDE." less revered but no less sensational are songs like "I'M SO FREE," "ANDY'S CHEST" and "MAKE UP."
a common theme throughout his the transmuting nature of art. that MARCEL DUCHAMP-ian concept that we are who we create ourselves to be. in "WALK ON THE WILD SIDE" we are famously introduced to a cast of misfits and superstars associated with ANDY WARHOL's FACTORY scene (of which REED was famously a participant of with THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), all of whom have self-made themselves into their current state to varying effectiveness. in "PERFECT DAY" there is the self-illusion and self-mythologizing that comes with falling in love, where the target of such affection has effectively altered his self-identity with the amazing lines you made me forget myself, i thought i was someone else, someone good. with "MAKE UP" the daily ritual of physically changing your appearance is a forbearer for liberating your soul to outside world. there are literally too many great lines to go over but that is its joy in a sense, much like memorizing the best MEL BROOKS one-liners from SPACEBALLS (MGM, 1987) or BLAZING SADDLES (WARNER BROS, 1974).
the whole album is a remarkable and singular artistic achievement, written by a poet with an eye for the hidden and forgotten elements of society. this album, literally evoked with its iconic MICK ROCK (R.I.P.) sleeve portrait, presents a sense of ANDROGYNY that must have been interpreted as entirely transgressive during the period of its release in the early 1970s. i always wonder what the baby boomer generation's true tolerance was for this type of message post- SUMMER OF LOVE. its one thing to question the role of institutions like marriage and courtship rituals and yet another entirely to transcend GENDER itself.
as a cultural artifact of its period, a collection of poetry and a ROCK N ROLL record, TRANSFORMER succeeds on all accounts. it is required listening. and i didnt even mention that DAVID BOWIE produced it with assistance from MICK RONSON. doesnt matter, go listen to this record.
photo & text by nacrowe
i remember my senior year of high school, a few months after relocating to SACRAMENTO from KUWAIT in the aftermath of 9/11, visiting a childhood friend in ORANGE COUNTY over winter break. i always find it interesting how music has a way of presenting itself to you at a point when you are ready to receive it. this friend had lots of opinions on music, some i agree with and many i dont, but i remember being in a car with him for that few days with a copy of DAVID BOWIE's THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (RCA, 1972) on repeat. by the end of that trip i was a BOWIE fan by osmosis and basically sought out the rest of his discography.
i think what captured my imagination at first were the lyrics and how they utilized this premise of an otherworldly being as a rock star to showcase real emotions regarding isolation and being an other. im thinking of songs like "FIVE YEARS," "MOONAGE DAYDREAM," "IT AIN'T EASY," "STARMAN," and "ZIGGY STARDUST" specifically. you can read into that depiction a pretty powerful character study of what it must have been like to be a BOWIE or any cultural phenomenon dealing with issues regarding fame and mass adulation. on one had you are raised up and admired but that distance is cutting into your very sense of identity and personal self-worth. "ROCK N ROLL SUICIDE" and "HANG ON TO YOURSELF" really dig into that territory lyrically.
i remember during my time working abroad i was constantly aware of my own exoticness and being an other, especially when living in MYANMAR, JAPAN and ALBANIA. you had to be aware that people noticed you and that it was nearly impossible to blend in and be anonymous. i think that is probably why i gravitated to this BOWIE album in particular when living and working overseas.
i should also mention that guitarist MICK RONSON is a beast and the feedback-drenched saturated soundscapes he came up with for this record make it sonically transcend the FOLK MUSIC and acoustic foundations that obviously underpin it. this record was a gateway drug to another of my favorite artists, T. REX, and the whole back-to-basics, less-is-more mentality of 1970s GLAM ROCK in general.
BOWIE obviously had a varied career with lots of creative peaks, this just being one of them, but the world opened herein made me receptive to new sounds and ideas which to me mark any work of significance. it literally expanded my appreciation for what could be accomplished within the construct of ROCK N ROLL. it made me a more receptive listener.